The parents and legal representatives of 34-year-old Roger Heard Jr., who lost his life in a fatal encounter with Chattanooga Police Department (CPD) officers on Aug. 11, have come forward to demand justice and transparency in a case that has shaken the community.
Local attorney McCracken Poston, along with Atlanta-based civil rights lawyers Jonathan Grunberg and Mark Begnaud, said in a statement, “Mr. Heard was pulling away from a gas pump at a crowded Speedway gas station on East 3rd Street in Chattanooga when an unmarked police car blocked his vehicle. A plainclothes police officer wearing a tactical belt got out and rushed him with a gun, and the officer’s claim that he was wearing a badge and identified himself has not been independently confirmed.
“The citizens of Chattanooga deserve to know if plainclothes officers in an unmarked police car charging into a crowded gas station with guns blazing is what the Chattanooga Police Department trains its officers to do. And they deserve to know if the job of a Chattanooga Police Department officer is to continue shooting a man who is already lying on the ground shot, wounded and with no weapon in hand.”
During a news conference held on the steps of City Hall in downtown Chattanooga late Wednesday morning, attorneys for Heard’s family vehemently argued that CPD officers acted recklessly and violated Mr. Heard’s constitutional rights.
The three attorneys assert that after Heard was shot, he was lying on the ground with his weapon far from his reach. Despite this, they claim that a Chattanooga officer fired multiple rounds into Heard, a move they describe as “overkill.” Moreover, they allege that the actions of the Chattanooga Police put at least 15 innocent bystanders at grave risk.
Attorney Grunberg emphasized the questionable circumstances of the incident, stating, “No lights flashing, no markings of a police car. And out of that car hops an officer, but that officer doesn’t have a uniform, he doesn’t have a tactical vest. He has a belt, and most importantly he has a gun.”
Hamilton County District Attorney Coty Wamp characterized Heard as “a violent felon, a known drug dealer, and a gang member, serving time in federal prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm and has felony convictions out of Hamilton and Bradley Counties.”
Attorney Poston pushed back, underscoring the importance of recognizing Heard’s humanity. “We have a new prosecutor in town,” he said. “And she’s done a lot of good things in that office, but her remarks regarding this case were so quick, so blindly supportive of the law enforcement officers that she has worked with in the past. So I’m sure she has a lot of close personal relationships with them. This is something that I think should have waited. Those comments should have waited until the end of an independent investigation.”
He added, “There’s already been a lot said about the man killed, Mr. Heard. Much of it has been said by elected officials. With the exception of some thoughtful statements by Mayor (Tim) Kelly, most statements have been charged with code words that dehumanize Mr. Heard, who was a son and a father of five. But one thing that I haven’t Heard is this–Mr. Heard is no different than any of us here right now. All of us, that includes Mr. Heard, have constitutional rights. These rights include not to be shot and killed when you’re lying on the ground, wounded, and disarmed. When Mr. Heard was killed, that is not the justice that many in this community expect or demand.”
At times sobbing, Heard’s mother, Gloria Lewis, shared, “My son was a changed man and trying to provide for his kids and family. They took the joy out of my life. A lot of what he was doing was traveling, riding bikes, fixing cars, and reselling them. He wanted to enjoy life and ensure his kids were provided for.” The family and their legal representatives are now demanding the immediate release of unedited video footage, phone calls and messages from CPD leading up to the shooting. They also call for accountability within the department and transparency in the ongoing investigation.